Thank you, Mr. President, and first I would like to thank our new colleague from Côte d’Ivoire, Ambassador Adom. We are very excited to have you, and we look forward to working with you, so welcome.
I take the floor before the vote because we have reached a critical moment. South Sudan’s people have endured unimaginable suffering and unspeakable atrocities. Their leaders have failed them. They are desperate to get the most basic food, medicine, and shelter. But above all, they just want the violence to stop.
Anyone who has been to South Sudan knows this. The stories of the victims haunt us. One 14-year-old girl from Leer County in South Sudan recently put it like this: “All the violence I have witnessed is something I can never forget. How can I forget the sight of an old man whose throat was slit with a knife before being set on fire? How can I forget the smell of those decomposed bodies of old men and children pecked and eaten by birds? Those women that were hanged and died up in the tree?”
Fourteen years old. She will never forget the atrocities she witnessed, and neither can we.
We can do more than just sit here and listen to these horror stories. We can do more than just express our sympathy with empty words. We can take action.
Today, the United States has introduced a resolution that would impose an arms embargo and new sanctions against some of the people responsible for the violence. The goal of this resolution is simple. If we’re going to help the people of South Sudan, we need the violence to stop. And to stop the violence, we need to stop the flow of weapons to armed groups, that they are using to fight each other and to terrorize the people. Stop the weapons, stop the violence. It is a resolution that everyone on this Council should support.
Sadly, the idea of an arms embargo for South Sudan is not a new one. In 2016, the United States proposed it. We certainly should have imposed the embargo at the time, and probably a lot earlier. But the proposal failed. Since then, we can only imagine how many weapons made their way to parties in South Sudan, and how many more people had to die. These are the weapons that armed groups used to shoot fathers in front of their wives and children, to hold up convoys of food aid, or to assault women and girls.
The Security Council had an opportunity to help put a stop to this, but we failed. We carry that burden with us. The United States is determined that we will not turn our backs on South Sudan’s people again. We have tried everything to achieve a real ceasefire in South Sudan. We have given the parties many chances to change their behavior and it’s impossible to keep track. We have waited, and waited, for negotiations to make a difference. Time passes, but the fighting in South Sudan never stops.
The UN recently came out with a report that looked at violence only from April 16 until May 24 of this year in just one state. Over these six weeks, the UN found that armed forces attacked 40 villages; 120 women and girls were raped or gang-raped; 232 civilians were killed, including 35 children; 25 people were killed by hanging; 63 children, elderly, and people with disabilities were burned alive. Armed groups in South Sudan are literally burning people alive and hanging them from trees. This is barbaric. And again, all of this violence happened over just six weeks in one state.
The irony here is that all of this fighting took place after the parties signed a cessation of hostilities agreement in December. Every few months, it seems, we see announcements that the parties have agreed to a new ceasefire. Sometimes, they even call these ceasefires quote-unquote permanent. These ceasefires have never held. The only certainty about a ceasefire in South Sudan is that the parties will violate them in a few hours.
So the question before us today is quite simple. Why would we possibly want to give the people responsible for this madness more weapons? Why would we give the parties more opportunities to attack the people of South Sudan?
How do we explain to the people of South Sudan that we are willing to let their tormentors get new weapons? More arms for South Sudan cannot be the answer.
We have heard the argument that an arms embargo might undermine the peace process. To be clear, the United States supports the peace process in South Sudan. We want nothing more than to see this dialogue work out.
The arms embargo is a measure to protect civilians and help stop the violence. For negotiations to work, we must end the cycle of broken promises to stick to a ceasefire. Peace in South Sudan will not come by letting the parties get their hands on more weapons. The opposite is true. Supporting an arms embargo will show the parties that we are fed up with the delays and the stalling. It will show our resolve to make life better for the people of South Sudan.
For too long, the Security Council has failed these people. We failed to impose an arms embargo years ago, when we could have helped prevent so much suffering. We have failed to stop the fighting. We have failed to hold South Sudan’s leaders accountable for the misery they have caused.
But today, we can and we must defy this history. We can come together to show South Sudan that the era of impunity is over. We can show the world that the Security Council will live up to its responsibility to help maintain international peace and security. Above all, we can send a small signal of hope to the people of South Sudan.
By adopting this resolution, we can stand in solidarity with them, and at long last, show that we are able to help.
The United States urges all members of the Security Council to do what is right for the people of South Sudan. We urge you to vote in favor of this resolution.
Thank you, Mr. President.